I learned yesterday that one of Massachusetts’ Senators, Scott Brown, has joined Senator Joe Lieberman in co-sponsoring a bill to strip the citizenship from any naturalized U.S. citizen whom the State Department determines is associated with a terrorist group. The purpose of this bill apparently is to have such people tried by “military commissions,” as opposed to our court system. Note that under this bill naturalized citizens can lose their citizenship even if they have not been convicted of anything, and the State Department is not bound by constitutional protections such as due process, in making its determination.
This reminded me of something I haven’t thought about in over 50 years. In the late 1950’s, when I was about 10 years old, I remember that Anne Meeropol organized some programs for a progressive group called the Committee to Protect the Foreign Born. In the wake of the McCarthy period the government sought to deport “subversives” who had not managed to obtain American citizenship. Thousands of progressive foreign nationals had come to America fleeing from the Nazi terror in the 1940’s, and now many faced deportation for no reason other than they were deemed to be communists or communist sympathizers. I remember that British-born Cedric Belfrage (the editor of the National Guardian, the newspaper in the forefront of the campaign to save my parents’ lives) was deported to Mexico, although he did nothing illegal.
Once again, echoes of the McCarthy period reverberate in our time. There are, of course, some major differences. Although they were deported, Belfrage and others were, for the most part, treated civilly. After the September 11th attacks, hundreds of Muslim men, who had done nothing wrong other than overstay their visas, were rounded up, dumped in prison, brutalized by guards, held incommunicado for months and then deported.
Now, the Lieberman/Brown bill proposes to take a drastic step further by stripping citizenship from those who have already become citizens. Of course, there are many who point out that this bill may never become law and that if it does it will never survive a court challenge to its constitutionality. Perhaps they are correct, but if the bill passes, the only people who will keep this bill from becoming the permanent law of the land are the eight current Justices of the Supreme Court, and whomever President Obama nominates and the Senate confirms to replace retiring Justice Stevens. I don’t have a lot of confidence in that body.
This latest travesty, as with every other assault on our constitutional rights since September 11th, 2001, is justified on national security grounds. Like the PATRIOT Act and its progeny, they won’t make us more secure, but they will make us less free.
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